What Does the Josh Duggar Dialogue Say to Assault Victims?

This piece was originally published on my old blog, back in May of 2015. I had not yet publicly identified as a victim of sexual assault, but still felt a strong urging to speak up on the behalf of other survivors.

When I first started this blog, I had already decided that I never wanted to write this post.

Hot button topics? Politics? Debate? This was never going to be that sort of blog. There was enough internet commentary already, and mine wasn’t going to be that sort of place.

And yet I’m sitting here in front of the screen, writing my first post back after a month long hiatus of sorts, and never in a hundred years did I expect THIS to be what I needed to write. But for the million and one blogs and articles dissecting the recent Duggar scandal from every angle and point of view, one was glaringly missing to me: and it’s the one I simply can’t allow to remain silent. Am I concerned about the potential loss of readership? Of course. But some things are simply too important to remain silent about. Someone has to speak up for those who can’t always speak for themselves. So bear with me dear readers. I promise, this will not be a heated debate or rehashing of the same rhetoric you see all over social media and the blogsphere. If you would give me a few minutes and an open mind, I want to give some thought to the people who are being given the least attention right now in this whole sensational media explosion – the victims of sexual assault.

What exactly does our public dialogue about Josh Duggar say to victims: both his own victims, and all victims of sexual assault by a family member or friend? As I read post after post, status after tweet, and all manner of debate and discussion about what and who is to blame, I can’t help but read each of them through the eyes of assault victims. I see some common themes and phrases popping up repeatedly in response to the all out attack the Duggar family is supposedly facing right now, and I wonder how many people have really asked themselves what they are communicating to assault victims with their words? Let’s take a closer look at four of the more prevalent messages I’m seeing.

He sought forgiveness and repented, and became a great person, so why is everyone trying to destroy him over a past mistake?

A common theme to some of the defenses of Josh Duggar seem to be that he’s a good man, a family man, with a wife and kids who depend on him, and that coming after him is vindictive and cruel. There are many who would frame the dialogue to make Josh a victim in his own right: coming under fire from an out and out attack by the progressive left. Over and over I hear messages of sympathy for a man who’s built a wonderful life for himself and his family and is now being senselessly dragged through the mud when he’s already repented and apologized. But what does this dialogue say to victims of sexual assault, especially those who experience their pain at the hands of someone they know and quite possibly even love? The heartbreaking message we are sending them is that if your abuser apologizes and seeks your forgiveness, it’s unfair and purely vindictive to seek meaningful legal consequences for their actions. If Josh Duggar is being unfairly persecuted despite his apologies and remorse, what does that say to a young victim who is struggling to decide whether or not to potentially “ruin the life” of her family member by reporting them to authorities? How much harder is it for a victim to knowingly send a long time friend and mentor to jail when they are being bombarded with messages about how believing in the power of Gods forgiveness means accepting a heartfelt apology and not destroying the life of a “good person” over a “mistake.” It is difficult enough for many sexual assault victims to seek justice in their cases because they already struggle with the complexities of feeling both love and pain towards the same person in their abuser, so in adding this extra layer of confusion how many victims might we be ultimately silencing? How many will now tell themselves that the “right” thing to do is accept an apology and move on without justice?

“How can people call him a child molestor when he was just a child himself!” / “He was so young! It wasn’t a crime, it was teenage mischief!”

This has got to be one of the most damaging pieces of rhetoric I have seen making the rounds. What are we saying to countless sexual assault victims when we write off these crimes as “teenage antics?” What are we saying to them when we publicly declare that Josh was simply too young to be held accountable for any sort of real crime? So if a young girl’s abuser is also another teenager, does this in fact negate the crime? Are we telling her that no crime has actually occurred at all, thereby stripping her of her status as a survivor? How can a nice girl from a nice family hope to report a sex crime when she is met with the idea that it wasn’t really a crime at all but teenagers fooling around with their sexuality? Furthermore, as the mother of two boys I see a big part of my job as teaching them that they have responsibility for their choices, and about the importance of consent in regards to sexuality. This dialogue certainly flies in the face of that message. If Josh Duggar didn’t commit a crime and was just “exploring” or “curious,” what terrifying messages does that send to our sons about both consent and personal responsibility? If that 14 year old can’t be held responsible for his sexual actions, what does that say to my boys about theirs?

“It was 12 years ago! Why bring it up now? He shouldn’t be defined by a mistake from so long ago.”

Easily one of the most common themes permeating the dialogue right now is the idea that this was all ancient history and it serves no good to bring it up now. Are we ready to look assault victims in the face who are 10, 15, even 20 years beyond their ordeals and tell them that it’s all “water under the bridge” and that any pain they still feel is simply outside the bounds of normal? Are we willing to place limits on how long they can relive the trauma, how big the lasting effects can be, or how much they are even allowed to claim their crimes have effected them? And what of women who simply weren’t ready or able report their crimes years ago, but wish to step forward now and seek whatever justice may be left? Are we willing to tell them there is a time limit not only on the reaches of justice but the length of our sympathies? Why report a decades old crime when all you will be met with is tales of what a nice guy your abuser grew up to be and how it was all so long ago its simply not worth bringing up. It also begs to question whether we apply this same standard to ALL sexual offenders. Should we remove all sex crimes from a criminal record after a decade has past? Perhaps we should lift the ban on former offenders being teachers, childcare workers, etc. After all, we are claiming we shouldn’t define them by a past mistake right? Are we ready to abolish the sex offender registry and forgive all past offenders as easily as we are expecting the world to forgive Josh Duggar?

“This is a liberal attack on the Duggars, because they are such great Christian role models.”

I’m going to make a heartfelt plea to my fellow believers on this one: guys, we must stop saying this. Think this one through. Do we really want to send the message that reporting the crimes of any of our own is going to met with the overwhelming response that this is unfair persecution and simply the attack of some sort of “liberal agenda?” Do we want the world to see us as a church body that will stand by its own at all costs, even if it means defending a child molester because he’s such a “good guy?” I understand how hard it is for many of my faith who feel like the world is out there just looking for a way to take us down. (I don’t personally take that position, but I understand it.) I understand that so many of us were raised to believe that the “secular media” is out to discredit us all and seeks our demise. And I will even admit that it’s entirely possible that whoever brought this recent scandal to light could have had less than saintly motives and that yes, there are plenty of people out there who are doing a victory dance on the Duggars’ perceived grave. BUT, and this is a big but y’all, does that really and truly justify going out there and portraying Josh himself as the victim in all this? And more importantly, what do you think we are saying to victims of sexual abuse when we show them that the church is quite possibly going to close ranks and protect their own if someone wants to call out an abuser in our midst? How many girls sitting in our own pews right now are getting the message that if they somehow muster the courage to admit someone in our congregation has assaulted them, that they might just find their attacker painted as the victim and see themselves be hung out to dry for attacking such Godly upstanding men of character? An overwhelming majority of sexual assaults already go unreported, and sadly this is already the main reason why: it’s hard enough to hope that adults are going to believe you when you are young, but it’s exponentially harder when the person you stand to accuse is seen as an upstanding citizen and person of faith.

We as a church have a responsibility to sexual assault victims everywhere to make a very public stand: we will not protect or support criminals in our midst. We will not write off accusations against as our own as merely “spiritual warfare” or “liberal agenda.” We will not close ranks when we feel slighted. We we always first and foremost stand for VICTIMS. Period.

Standing with the victims,
Stephanie Tait